I like to think when Jeremiah says "my people," he is fleeing from deflection and accepting that his deliverance is intertwined with theirs.Read more
What Matters includes a variety of resources to connect your questions of faith with the deep faith expressed by the UCC. Discover what matters through reflection, stories from UCC congregations and members, stories from history, Bible study, prayer, worship, and service.
Explore on your own or with others. There are plenty of suggestions for seekers, new member classes, baptism preparation or membership groups, or pastor classes. For ideas about how use What Matters with groups, click here. Discover the questions and insights of those not familiar with the UCC in the article "What Matters to Visitors and Seekers?"
To explore one of the six vital themes, simply click a photo below.
We Are One at Baptism We Thank God by Working We Listen for the
and the Table for a Just and Loving World Still-speaking God
What Matters to You? Matters to Us - Engaging Six Vital Themes of OurFaith by Sidney D. Fowler is a new book for individual or group study based on core themes of
the United Church of Christ.
Also available is What Matters for Children and Families by Frank Proctor based on the same six vital themes.
Order both new books by calling 800-537-3394
or from United Church Resources.
Get Copies of the What Matters brochures!
You can also order colorful, engaging brochures.
Great for visitors, inquirers, as well as long-time members.
To order, call toll free, 800.537.3394.
Cost: $15.00 per bundle of 50. Order from a variety of available covers with identical inside copy:
"Find Yourself. We have GPS." #LCMCV1A
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What Matters is written by Sidney D. Fowler. Designed by Duy-Khuong Van (risingflare.com)
Copyright © 2005 - 2008 Congregational Vitality in the United Church of Christ.
During an Advent gathering to envision the future of ministry in the 21st century, 140 leaders of the United Church of Christ released a letter to the church addressing the racism they see in cases in Ferguson, New York and Cleveland. A message of outrage this holy season calling for accountability and justice for all people.Read more
Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, two small Michigan towns, are divided by the St. Joseph River. A history of racial tension separates the towns as well.
Spurred on by a heralded book, a United Church of Christ congregation is helping to bridge the racial divide.
Mostly white and prosperous, St. Joseph features a pristine Lake Michigan beachfront and a pretty brick- paved main street lined with boutiques and restaurants. Nearly all black and impoverished, Benton Harbor has boarded-up storefronts and an air of defeat.
Residents of the two communities rarely intermingle. But that is slowly starting to change.
Members of Zion Evangelical UCC in St. Joseph cross the bridge regularly to meet with members of the Brotherhood Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal church in Benton Harbor. The churches have enjoyed choir exchanges, pot luck suppers and a pulpit exchange.
"People are starting to recognize each other around town," says the Rev. Kent Meyer, pastor of Zion Evangelical. "People say, ‘Hey, you were at my church.' Conversations are starting to take place that would not have happened before."
Says the Rev. James Atterberry, pastor of Brotherhood Church of God, "It's been great. We're becoming familiar with each other's style of worship and becoming more comfortable with one another. We're getting to know one another."
Book spurs fellowship
The fellowship was partly inspired by a 1998 book that examined the racial division between the towns. Alex Kotlowitz' much-acclaimed The Other Side of the River used the mysterious death of an African-American teen to plumb the level of distrust between whites and blacks. The youth was found drowned in the St. Joseph River in 1991. Blacks believed whites murdered the teen and whites viewed the death as symptomatic of social problems in Benton Harbor.
"I think the book was the burr under the saddle," says Meyer. "People either hated the book or loved it, but it was a spur [to fellowship]."
Says Atterberry, "The book brought pain and discomfort. It takes that to heal wounds."
Meyer is one of the founders and co-president of the local Christian Alliance for Racial Equality (CARE). When the Ku Klux Klan held two rallies in St. Joseph, CARE countered with prayer rallies attended by blacks and whites.
The Klan rallies drew sparse crowds while the prayer services packed in hundreds.
"We showed that the heart of the community was against the Klan," says Meyer.
Once were sister cities
St. Joseph and Benton Harbor once got along better and even promoted themselves as sister cities. But the economic downturn in the 1970s hit Benton Harbor hard. Whites fled across the river. The YMCA, the hospital and many stores relocated as well. Enmity grew. Residents sarcastically referred to the town across the river as "Benton-Harlem" or "St. Johannesburg."
Towns didn't interact
"The only relationship we had with St. Joe was with the jailhouse and courthouse," says Atterberry. "For Christians, that's not Biblical. That's not the word of God. The best place to turn things around is the churches."
"When my wife and I came here five years ago the division between the communities hit us like a ton of bricks," says Meyer, whose church has 290 members. "We knew we needed to get beyond ‘us and them.' It's harder to stereotype people when you know them."
Meyer first talked to Atterberry about a choir exchange the week the book came out. The two knew each other from CARE.
The exchanges have gone so well that even if the two towns may never again be sister cities, the two churches may become sister churches. Future joint projects may include an outdoor service and community service.
"When the churches work together, we may see people go shopping together," says Atterberry. "We might see people visit one another. We might even see people live next door to one another again."
The Rev. Felicia Walker-Wilson of New York City and the Rev. James H. Hamett of Carlsbad, Calif., at the UBC/MRS-EJ meeting. UBC photo by Carmen Muhammed
Exciting, inspirational, invitational, and instructional, and interactive! That's how 110 ministers and seminarians described the gathering of United Black Christians in Birmingham, Ala., from July 11-15. The UBC meeting was held alongside the first Pastors Conference of Ministers for Racial, Social, and Economic Justice (MRS-EJ). The theme of that conference was "A Healthy Clergy for a Healthy Church." During this event, the second largest gathering of ministers in its history, the ministers led workshops and gathered with UBC for joint "Theological Reflections and Biblical Interpretation" and late night worship.
The setting of this year's MRS-EJ convocation in Birmingham "helped contextualize the event," says the Rev. Art Cribbs of San Diego. He points out that Birmingham, often referred to as "Bombingham, Alabama," remains "a stark reminder of the long, murderous contention against civil rights for black people in America." He also was moved by the statistics on Africans living with AIDS/HIV, especially with the presence of an international guest from Ghana. "It tore the depths of our souls as we realized that more than 25 million men and women in Africa will die in the coming years," he says.
The multi-cultural/multi-racial, intergenerational community of faith was graced with the presence of the Collegium and blessed with new and veteran voices, with the Late Night Worship topping the agenda for newness. It was designed to give the gathered community of faith (1) exposure to women and seminarians; (2) an alternative means of fellowship, (3) closure in community with God, (4) identifiably talented preachers, and (5) support and encouragement for new voices.
The preachers and their subjects were Rose Wright Scott, "Raise the Roof, Jesus is in the House;" the Rev. Robert Eddy, "In Everything Give Thanks;" the Rev. Francina Parrett, "To Be Determined;" and seminarian Raymond Reid, "Down but not Out."
At the UBC's Women's Luncheon, facilitated by the Rev. Felicia Walker Wilson, persons honored for their contributions in church and society were Bernice Powell Jackson, the Rev. Yvonne Delk, Edith Guffey, and the late Marilyn Adams Moore and Mary McLeod Bethune.
During the minister's business meeting, in the African tradition, the Rev. Paul Sadler was lifted up as the man of the year and the Rev. Felicia Walker-Wilson was officially crowned and named "The Reverend Queen Mother" of the Ministers for Racial, Social, and Economic Justice.
"God's Spirit was present in a powerful way in Birmingham, beachhead of the civil rights movement, when UBC gathered for worship, Bible Study, and to hear key note presentations," says Karna M. Burkeen.
For the Rev. James E. Fouther, Jr., the highlight of the MRS-EJ Pastor's Conference was the focus of the president, officers, and convention leaders on worship. "I deeply appreciated the strong connections between the lay members of the UBC, MRS-EJ, and the youth attending the Harambee event," he says.
For Yoruba Siddiq, the MRS-EJ Biennial Convocation 2000 was "an exciting, spiritual, educational, and cultural experience." As a parish nurse and a seminarian, I was inspired and energized, body, mind, and spirit, to continue my work as an advocate for a healthy Black Church and Community."
Dory Lingo of Florida was elected the UBC's12th president. Other elected officers are Charlene L. Higginbotham of Ohio, Vice-President; Ashley Ekham of North Carolina, Second Vice- President/Youth; Arleathia Crocker of Virginia, Secretary; and Charles Brown of Ohio, Treasurer. There are 278 predominantly black churches in the UCC with more than 71,000 members.
The Rev. Pamela June Anderson of Columbus, Ohio, is Vice President of UCC Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice.
On August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri a young black man named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer. While tragic and heartbreaking, this incident is not unique. This type of violence is echoed in communities across our nation.
What happened in the ensuing days is something that seized the imagination and attention of a country and perhaps a world. In the weeks following Michael Brown’s shooting advocates have rallied to call attention to issues of racial discrimination and the militarization of our police forces. UCC clergy and lay leaders have offered prayers, resources, and their physical presence both to aid in the healing of the community of Ferguson, and in an attempt to address the broader systemic issues that underlie what happened in Missouri.
These are challenging times and difficult issues, but together we are called to do the work of healing the hurt in our midst, addressing the lack of understanding between communities, and taking on the sin of racism in our desire to see the Church live and be as one.
Why "Black Lives Matter"
When a church claims boldly “Black Lives Matter” at this moment, it chooses to show up intentionally against all given societal values of supremacy and superiority or common-sense complacency. By insisting on the intrinsic worth of all human beings, Jesus models for us how God loves justly, and how his disciples can love publicly in a world of inequality. We live out the love of God justly by publicly saying #BlackLivesMatter.” (Read more.)
Prayer & Study Resources
Prayers for Racial Justice
Since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, a collective of UCC faith leaders from across the country have gathered on conference calls convened by the Rev. Geoffrey Black. They share about the on-going efforts at local and conference settings to keep people mobilized and engaged in countering institutional racism and sanctioned violence. And they seek to identify all-Church initiatives with course of actions that can make a difference over time. Last year they called UCC churches to recognize Sunday, August 9, 2015, the actual anniversary of Mike Brown’s death, as a time for us to pray together for racial justice. In the course of that process they prepared a variety of prayers for use by congregations. These prayers may be adapted and used on other days and in other settings in which people gather to pray and witness to justice for all who suffer the violence of racial injustice.
To request free"Black Lives Matter"
- Call to Worship - Dorhauer
- Call to Worship - Jefferson
- Children's Sermon Starters - Wood
- Litany on Gun Violence - Byrne
- Pastoral Prayer - Jefferson
- Prayer of Confession - Jefferson
- Prayer of Confession - Fairman
- Prayer of Lament - Fennema
- Charge to Community Action - Fennema
A Pastoral Letter on Racism: A New Awakening
As America honors the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the ideals of equality, service and beloved community that he lived and died for, the Cleveland-based United Church of Christ has released a Pastoral Letter on Racism, with the hope and expectation that it will be read in our 5,100 churches nationwide on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend or to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Sunday, Jan. 25.
With the recent rash of deaths of African Americans at hands of police, the UCC national leaders hope Martin Luther King weekend will be an opportunity for us to both address those issues through our continuing advocacy and hope for change toward King’s beloved community. Read the letter.
Pastoral Response to Grand Jury Decision
United Church of Christ General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black has released this statement in response to the decision of the grand jury.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
In the months that have passed since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown last August, the attention of the nation on Ferguson, Missouri, has sharpened the reality that racism still exists in our country and is as deadly as ever. Our prayers for justice have been fervent but the truth remains that in communities around the country, racial profiling of people of color by law enforcement, and particularly of young African American men, far too often has lethal consequences.
Day after day, protestors have peacefully marched in the streets of Ferguson, demanding that justice be done. People of faith, including UCC clergy and leaders, and young people living in the area, have provided key leadership in this organizing effort. Even so, a state of emergency was declared days before the announcement of the St. Louis grand jury decision on whether or not Officer Darren Wilson would face criminal charges.
Our United Church of Christ Statement of Faith reminds us that God promises to all who trust in God “courage in the struggle for justice and peace.” In the wake of the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Wilson and the implication that Michael Brown’s death was justified, the people of Ferguson, of the St. Louis area, and of the nation at large are left with an open wound and no visible means to begin the healing process. Disappointment, frustration and anger abound. Any and all of these responses are understandable.
However, we are also reminded by our statement of faith that we are engaged in a “struggle for justice and peace.” These two concepts are appropriately joined. To engage in the struggle takes courage and a renewed commitment to advocacy and action, to deepening racial awareness by engaging in sacred conversation, and to truthfully examining – then dismantling - the systems of privilege set in place by racism. It requires building God’s beloved community beyond racial divides. That is where true peace abides.
We in the national setting of the United Church of Christ stand in prayerful solidarity with the people of the St. Louis Association and the Missouri Mid-South Conference. We join you and all others who are advocating for justice and working for peace in Ferguson and the St. Louis area as well as in communities around our nation. We invite the whole United Church of Christ to do likewise.
Much more can and must be said on this topic. To that end, we are preparing a more extensive pastoral letter which will be issued during Advent. In the meantime, let us prayerfully face this moment of lost opportunity, seeking God’s gift of courage to continue the struggle. Therein lies our hope for the transformation of this society to a just society for all.
Peace and blessings,
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
UC News Coverage
Commentary: We Are All Affected
December 4, 2014
Lancaster Seminary to explore race and violence in forum on Ferguson
October 15, 2014
Moral march in Ferguson underscores justice for all
October 9, 2014
Support and solidarity with Ferguson
August 21, 2014
Geoffrey Black invited to preach, pray in Ferguson
August 19, 2014
UCC communities, leaders mobilize to support Ferguson
August 18, 2014
The Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery
A Biblical Reflection
As part of the implementation of the General Synod 29 resolution, the joint working group of Council for American Indian Ministries (CAIM) and Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) offer this resource for our churches to take up with prayer. To download the study, click HERE. Additional video resources:
For an introduction to the topic, see the video clip "Discovered, or Stolen?" For the history of the Doctrine of Discovery, see here for a 18-min. presentation by Dr. Roxanne Gould, All Nations Church UCC, Minneapolis, MN. See the same video (starting at the 18:40 mark) for Doctrine of Discovery and being a "pilgrim" today, a 10-min. mediation by the Rev. Emily Goldthwaite Fries.
Many Americans grow up learning that this continent was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus. The concept of discovery, as if the land was empty prior to arrival and its indigenous inhabitants were somehow “less than” the explorers is, at its heart, racism and cultural superiority.
The doctrine of discovery, a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions, originated from various church documents in Christian Europe in the mid-1400s to justify the pattern of domination and oppression by European monarchies as they invasively arrived in the Western hemisphere. It theologically asserted the right to claim the indigenous lands, territories, and resources on behalf of Christendom, and to subjugate native peoples around the world.
The U.S. Supreme Court used the doctrine to assert that the United States, as the successor of Great Britain, had inherited authority over all lands within our claimed boundaries. This decision allowed our government to legally ignore or invalidate any native claims to property and resources. To this day courts continue to cite this legal precedent. It is still being used by courts to decide property rights cases brought by Native Americans against the U.S. and against non-Natives.
The repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery by General Synod 29 provides an invaluable teaching moment for our congregations to understand systemic and continuous impact of racism on the daily lives of indigenous peoples in the U.S.
Learn more about the Doctrine of Discovery
What is the Doctrine of Discovery?
The discovery concept has basically has two separate references. Theologically, it provided the spiritual rationale for Europeans since the times of the Crusades to conquer and confiscate other lands, including what is now the United States. There were papal documents which laid the groundwork that, later, Protestants adopted. It treated the indigenous peoples as if they were animals; they had no (European) title to the land on which they lived. Thus, the Church justified removing and killing them.
Legally, the discovery concept was written into United States law as a doctrine to deny land rights to American Indians, through the Supreme Court case known as Johnson v. McIntosh in 1823. The decision stripped American Indians from the right of their own independence, providing a rationale for taking land away from the indigenous peoples, with the support of United States federal law. As a concept of public international law, it continues to be cited as recently as 2005. The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues noted that the Doctrine of Discovery “was the foundation of the violation of their (Indigenous peoples) human rights."
Excessive poverty, teenage suicides that outpaced all other ethnicities, extreme incidences of Type II diabetes, unemployment rates that rank among the highest – these are but a few of the contemporary cultural, communal, and individual damages experienced by indigenous peoples in the U.S., due to the generational impact resulted from the legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery.
UCC Perspectives on the Doctrine of Discovery
Witness for Justice: Doctrine of Discovery
July 9, 2012
The Doctrine of Discovery: Why it still matters today
November 2, 2013
Rethinking Columbus Day according to the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A
October 12, 2014
"No matter who we are or where we are on our journey …” all are welcome to the table to participate in Sacred Conversation on Race and to engage in meaningful, life-changing dialogue on race. The invitation to engage in this dialogue is an acknowledgement of the legacy and tradition of the United Church of Christ in combating racism and racial injustice, and the desire to live out Jesus’ desire for the world, “That they may all be one.” John 17:21
The differing levels where individuals enter this dialogue and engagement of race can be expressed on a continuum. The continuum speaks to where we are on the journey, and offers the possibility of more learning on every level to re-encounter the self and others as we seek to change the world around us.
SEEKER –– New to race and racial justice dialogue. Ready to be involved in first, basic level conversation on race. Curious and seeking to know more about the issues. Ready for Sacred Conversation on Race.
LEARNER ––Participated in first Sacred Conversation on Race. Is concerned with learning more and wants to be engaged in deeper, more meaningful conversation to learn how s/he can make a difference in impacting the social construct of race and racism. Ready for Sacred Conversation on Race and how race intersects and permeates all areas of life.
FACILITATOR –– Served as facilitator for Sacred Conversation on Race. Received training as facilitator and is able to engage with others in dialogue, as well as lead dialogue on race. Has heightened sense of self-awareness around issue of race. Ready for “White Privilege,” “Internalized Oppression” and other focused dialogue.
ENGAGER –– Moved beyond basic dialogue. Desires to be in dialogue around changing systems and structures to have long-range impact on race dialogue and issues. Ready for Anti-Racism Training.
MOTIVATOR –– Received training on different aspects of race and racism. Desires to know more about living out the tools received in training. Ready for Diversity Training.
EDUCATOR –– Received many different levels of training. Realizes that there is the need to learn more from those who are on different levels of the journey. Actively seeks to participate with others on their journey as participant or facilitator. Ready for lifelong learning which re-engages conversation and training.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus encountered the risen Jesus as they walked (Luke 23:13-35). They were so absorbed in their problems that they did not recognize Jesus among them. Our lives are a journey with places along the road where we encounter the risen Jesus in and through the eyes of all those we encounter along the way. The disciples' eyes were opened as Jesus taught them, and then took bread with them. Our eyes will also be opened when we are willing to be taught and to break bread with the strangers who live among us.
As children of God traveling the same road on this journey that is life, all are at different places in life. There are those who live in homogenous communities where they rarely encounter individuals who do not look like them. There are those who are in mixed communities, consider themselves as finished with the work against racism, and see no reason to work anymore at changing the world. Yet there is the call to be ever mindful of the need to be engaged regardless of the experience or the time given to learning and being aware of race, because racism mutates.
There is work for all to do
There is much to be changed in global racial dialogue which begins with the need to engage this issue of race based on where individuals are, realizing there is work for all to do. Incidents of structural racism are rising in the U.S. even as explicit intrapersonal racism may be declining, for many of the policies and practices that produce disparities appears "race-neutral," but they impact non-Whites disadvantageously.
Hate crimes continue to be present among us and abroad. Young men and women continue to be unfairly and unjustly incarcerated because of the color of their skin. Mothers and fathers are still denied the right to a proper education for their children because of their race and where they live. Parents are denied the right to care for their children because of immigration status.
We are a society of inequities, where we claim justice, but no justice abounds for many. Our conversations must continue based on where we are on this journey.
A call to action
In this next stage of Sacred Conversation on Race, there is a call to action beyond the scope of the many discussions we will have, as we look carefully at the intersections of race and many social issues (criminal justice, sentencing, medical care, education, immigration, economics, etc.), and advocate for those who have less than we do, are underrepresented and experience marginalization based on the color of their skin.
There is a call for individuals to reflect on where they are and actively engage in the continuum which does not bring us to a place of finality, but places us on a track of life-long learning and discovery of where we are at and how we can help make a difference in seeing racial justice for all. The call to conversation is not passive, but an active call to care and concern for all.
Creating the Beloved Community: Invocation, Confession and Assurance of Pardon For Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend
|Download Prayer Resources|
Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives. - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
O God, all people are your Beloved,
across races, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations
and all the ways we are distinctive from one another.
We are all manifestations of your image.
We are bound together in an inescapable network of mutuality
and tied to a single garment of destiny.
You call us into your unending work
of justice, peace and love.
Let us know your presence among us now:
Let us delight in our diversity
that offers glimpses of the mosaic of your beauty.
Strengthen us with your steadfast love and
transform our despairing fatigue into hope-filled action.
Under the shadow of your wings in this hour
may we find rest and strength, renewal and hope.
We ask this, inspired by the example
of your disciple, Martin Luther King, Jr.,
and in Jesus’ name. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
O God, we long to co-create with you the Beloved Community
which looks to the common good; privileges all equally,
and creates societal systems
which celebrate the humanity and the gifts of all.
And yet we focus on our differences, envy each other’s gifts,
devalue manifestations of you, O God, that are not like our own.
Perhaps our sin is a slow wait for justice:
We allow the voices of brothers and sisters
who do not look like us, love like us, or worship like us
to be silenced.
We have told them to wait for freedom, justice and equality.
We foster in them a denigrating sense of nobodiness. Lord, have mercy.
Or perhaps we have kept silence ourselves
in the face of their struggle for full human life.
For it is not solely hateful words and actions,
but also appalling silence that follows the path of oppression. Christ, have mercy.
Perhaps our sin is to give in to weariness, discouragement, bitterness:
You have called us to be drum majors for justice, peace and righteousness,
Yet the work of peace and justice overwhelms us at times,
To build with God the Beloved Community seems impossible,
and we grow weary.
We cry, “Peace, peace,”
but there is no peace within us or around us.
We find ourselves on the path
of hatred and oppression, violence and war. Lord, have mercy.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON (Isaiah 62:1-5)
Sisters and brothers, God is at work in us and with us!
God has promised:
“I will not keep silent and I will not rest
until the vindication of my beloved people
shines out like the dawn and their salvation like a burning torch.
My people shall no more be termed ‘forsaken’
and their land shall no more be termed ‘desolate.’”
We remember that you have given your Beloved people a new name:
“My delight is in them.”
Thank you, God for delighting in us even now,
for forgiving us our slow action, our silence and our weariness,
for empowering our work
and inviting us once again
to create with you the Beloved Community you long for.
Phrases from the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. have been woven into the prayer texts. They are identified by italics. Texts of King’s work are available in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James M. Washington; © 1986 Coretta Scott King. A brief essay on King’s understanding of the term “Beloved Community” is available at http://www.wilpf.org/mlksbelovedcommunity.
Creating the Beloved Community: Invocation, Confession and Assurance of Pardon was written by the Rev. Dr. Cari Jackson, Senior Pastor of First Congregational Church, Stamford, CT. It was originally published in Worship Ways, volume 9 number 1, © 2010 Local Church Ministries, Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team, United Church of Christ.